Revisiting the Toronto bar scene, circa 1979
July, 1979 was a dry, throat-scorcher of a summer, which found Torontonians fighting off fears of recession, depression, apocalypse and boredom by dancing, drinking and carrying on all night in sweaty bars. Nothing ever really changes, does it?
Head Space at Larry's Hideaway (121 Carlton Street) was a legendary punk/thrash night that hosted bands as varied as Slayer, Teenage Head, The Cramps, Razor, The Viletones, Killing Joke, and, uh, R.E.M.
Larry's remains one of the more infamous old school Toronto dives, which kept up a steady, heady flow of cheap beer, easy drugs, bare knuckle brawls and raw emotive music, until finally closing its doors in 1986. In Liz Worth's Treat Me Like Dirt: An Oral History of Punk in Toronto and Beyond, 1977-1981, Larry's was described by guitarist Chris Houston as follows: "You were lucky to get out of that room alive. Either the bouncers would kill you, or there were strange people coming and going from the rooms." It was "truly the filthiest, most degrading bar I've ever ventured into," claimed another. Nice night for a parteee!
The disco Yin to punk's Yang could be found at Yorkville's most exclusive lounge, Checkers, although not for much longer. Thanks to the mass vinyl and cassette burning in Chicago's "Disco Demolition Night", July 12, 1979 is often cited as the official death day of disco, so Checkers was probably running on 12" edit fumes at this point.
According to one un-named Checker's survivor, "The ladies' washrooms tended to resemble a snowstorm; the great cocaine blizzard of 1979 was whitest in the heart of Yorkville." Checkers was history by the end of 1980.
Located under the Hudson's Bay store at Yonge and Bloor, a devilish good time looks to be had at Heaven. Due no doubt to the ensuing disco doomsday, it changed its name (and vibe) to Rock 'n' Roll Heaven, in turn becoming a legendary Toronto hairband and glam metal hotspot rocked by the likes of Skid Row and company until its demise in the early, boy band crazed 1990s.
But back in July of 1979, it was all glitter balls, platforms and soulful house bands grooving away those hot summer nights.
Retrontario plumbs the seedy depths of Toronto flea markets, flooded basements, thrift shops and garage sales, mining old VHS and Betamax tapes that less than often contain incredible moments of history that were accidentally recorded but somehow survived the ravages of time. You can find more amazing discoveries at www.retrontario.com.
Join the conversation Load comments